I don’t recommend pulling all-nighters or staying up late to write. However. If you see that clock keeps ticking and you’re on a roll and everything is going really well, as long as you have nothing super important the next morning, you write my friend. (Don’t do this consistently, however. Sleep is important for your body and mental health)
Just finished GMing for the first time. It went well.
A few choice quotes:
“I get up and leave.” -my friend’s dwarven character after all the players (including him) have been detained.
“Why do I always get tied up in organics’ shenanigans?” -my other friend’s robot character.
“You might be artificial, but you’re not intelligence.” -robot character sassing one of the bad guy’s robots.
“What is a nickname? Why would a guy want another name if he was already named Nick? Nick is a great name. If I wasn’t identified as 5 I would like to be called Nick.” -the aforementioned bad guy’s robot.
“Hi, Nick!” -my third friend’s drunken pixie character.
“It could come in HANDY!” -fourth friend’s character, a mechanic, making a pun about her prosthetic arm.
“There’s something so shockingly intimate about holding a person’s life in your hands, don’t you think?” The villain murmured. “You can never know the truth of anyone so much as in the moments before they die.”
“And what’s the truth of me, then?”
“Oh, honey. You don’t get to die yet. I need you to lie for me still just little bit more.”
Hi there, and welcome to the new mods. :) Hope you're all doing well! I got a question about writing villains. I don't mind if it takes a long time to answer, so feel free to put this to the bottom of the list if you've got a backlog, I have a feeling it'll be a hard one to tackle - or if you don't answer it at all that's fine too! Here goes: I have a really hard time writing villains. I've read and absorbed loads of advice on how to write them well, that's not the problem. (1)
My problem is that I don’t CARE enough about villains. All efforts I make to flesh them out feel like a mandatory chore, and (like anything you write out of obligation rather than enthusiasm) it shows in my writing. No matter how much work I put into the villains, they feel flat, and you can tell in the narrative that I had zero enthusiasm for it, that the villain is only there at all because the hero needed an enemy. (2)
I care more about my heroes and don’t want to spend time with villains, and forcing myself to puts me in a rut and puts me off working on my story altogether. I also find most villains in other stories unappealing, especially the extremely evil, power-hungry types. Do you have any advice for how to tackle this problem, to get inspired to work on something your story needs, when you don’t want to work on that? PS. Sorry for the length of this, I didn’t realise it’d got so long! (3 - end)
Hi, love! Thanks so much for your question :)
Many of us have felt exactly what you’re feeling right now. Villains are such an integral part of a good story, yet they’re written so distantly (and often poorly) in modern fiction that it’s hard to get a good example. Even the Harry Potter series, which can be hailed for many great attributes, left us wanting a bit when it came to Voldemort. I always got that same impression from J.K. Rowling – she had all these amazing characters, but when it got down to the villain, it felt like she just thought of a menacing name, removed a random body part, and called it a day.
The good news there is that, despite a somewhat two-dimensional antagonist, J.K. Rowling had no problem selling her story. Antagonists are important, but they’re not going to make or break your story – so if this is an area where you need improvement, that’s okay. Take it slowly and give yourself grace while you work through this :)
Writing Villains – What Makes It Difficult?
With that out of the way, I’ll address your problem. It sounds like you’re having trouble connecting with villains, and it’s the root of that issue that interests me. Ask yourself: what is it about a villain that feels uninteresting or unlikable to you? What deters you? Could it be that you struggle to write characters who…
are immoral or dishonorable? You may not want to write your villains because their personalities or actions are abhorrent to you. The more evil a villain, the more prominent this problem is – if you truly hate the antagonist’s actions, you may be reluctant to write them. You may even feel gross when you get to their scenes.
If this is the case: I’d suggest you try to dig into the reasons why their moral compass has been compromised. Think about the character’s past and personality. Were there influences in their life that desensitized them to this type of behavior? What inspires them to act this way? The more human and realistic these reasons are, the easier it will be for you to understand their actions.
interrupt, harm, or conflict with your protagonist? Sometimes when we develop our stories, we become attached to our protagonists – so much so that we begin to dislike any enemy or obstacle to the protagonist. It may be that if you’re strongly in support of your hero and their goal, the idea of writing the antagonist becomes sour in your mind.
If this is the case: Think of how the villain’s actions will affect your protagonist positively. Wanting to protect your protagonist from all evil (or just the really strong evil) may sound ideal, but it’s really denying your hero a chance to grow. How do the obstacles and setbacks change your protagonist? Does your hero grow into a more resilient person? Do they meet new people who will change their lives forever? Do they learn more about themselves? If you find that the villain’s actions don’t change your character in the long-term at all, then you may have a plot problem.
are not relatable to you? There can be two causes for this. For one, we as writers naturally create protagonists who we can support, appreciate, and relate to. So the next logical jump is to create villains who are the exact opposite of all those things. You may need to diversify your villain – make their personality more complex, and not just bad bad bad. The second cause of unrelatable villains – when people do bad things in real life, others often struggle to understand why. That’s the major question when tragedy strikes: why did this happen? Why would they do this? People with strong morals just don’t know how to think like that They can’t rationalize how these actions benefit the villain, or how the villain can live with themselves afterward.
If this is the case: Rewrite the outline of the story through your villain’s perspective, as if this is their story. Think about those big scenes where the villain succeeds, fails, plots, attacks – imagine them through their eyes. What are they feeling? What are they gaining and what are they losing? What do they want, and why do they want it so badly? Why are they doing what they’re doing? If you can’t answer these questions, that’s your problem right there.
aren’t as extreme as you feel they ought to be? For any number of reasons, many writers wind up “softening” their villains before the final draft. For some, they feel they’re “wasting space” on the villain or letting the story become too dark or dramatic. For others, they just feel uncomfortable unleashing their “inner evil” like that. For some still, they never let their villains get too extreme in the first place. Either way, if you’re writing a muted version of a true villain, it’s going to wind up boring you!
If this is the case: Let them get nasty. Get some paper and just brainstorm the worst possible things for your villain to do (while staying true to their character and motivations). For a second, forget about the age rating or demographic of your story. Think of terrible things. Think of actions that would change your story, change your protagonist’s life, in irreparable ways. Don’t hold back! Even if you don’t use most of these ideas, get them out there and see how they taste. You’ll feel more freedom when the antagonist is on the page – the true sense of power, knowing that your villain (and you, by extension) could do anything and no one can stop you.
you know are going to fail? Writing a story can be like watching a movie when someone’s already spoiled the ending for you. You know exactly how things end up, and the only decision left is, are you going to take part anyway? Is the journey important enough that you’ll watch, even when you know the endgame? And most importantly, will knowing the ending affect how you experience the journey? Logically, you should be able to just make the decision to watch the movie. But it’s not that easy.
If this is the case: Consider the ending. Is the villain truly going to lose in every way? Are they going to come away with any kind of victory, even if they ultimately fail or die? And even if they don’t find happiness or victory, how can you improve their journey to make it worth the time? How can you make an interesting enough villain that you can write their story, even knowing exactly how it ends? This is a true problem of any character, of course, but it’s the most challenging for villains, who often wind up with the worst endings. This is, in my mind, the most challenging hurdle when writing villains.
Of course, there are other less common reasons to struggle with villains, so if none of these address your concern, send another ask and we’ll get back to you. I hope you can find the cause behind your problem! :)